Beyond reviews and media bluster, I believe that many of us have lost sight of the true importance and impact of technology in our respective day-to-day experiences. Aside from insight into novel design and powerful new silicon, writers, developers, and thinkers across the world have a woefully rare tendency to delve into the significance of a device or piece of software in the lives of their audience.
At the end of the day, compelling features and performance aside, all of us involved in the technology industry — whether directly or otherwise — are in such a position due to the sustained impact of compelling devices and software. Pieces of technology that have been designed to impact our lives, but that are so often left behind amid rampant discussion of resolutions, connectivity, and industrial design.
Starting with Mr. Federico Viticci of MacStories, I will begin to delve into this topic several times per month with a variety of guests. The purpose is fairly complex, but nonetheless entertaining to consider: I would like to unravel the hyperbole and find out what is truly of significance to the taste-makers, developers, and thinkers of our industry.
I ask you to regard the Real Life series as an ongoing discussion between friends. A conversation built upon the tenets of introspection, reflection, and thoughtful consideration of the past, present, and future. Herein, my goal is that you might hopefully come to abandon any lingering feelings of negativity, and embrace a youthful feeling of hope and awe for the innovative world in which we live.
MA: Federico, as a writer, thinker, and generally far-reaching personality, how has technology — whether it’s software, hardware, or otherwise — made a true impact upon your life?
FV: I guess the biggest impact was on the professional side of things — it’s because of Macs and iOS devices, after all, that I have been running MacStories for the past three years. But really, I think in my case adoption of these new technologies and devices mixes up the professional aspect with real-life events and accomplishments quite a bit.
The site allows me to know people I would have never reached if it weren’t for the iPhone and iPad and the ecosystem of apps and developers behind them. The iPhone — the same device I use for work purposes — also happens to be the best camera I have, enabling me to take pictures of important moments of my life worth remembering. The iPad lets me keep a journal with Day One, which is synced with the cloud to other devices. John Gruber’s Markdown, a plain text formatting syntax, has made me a better, more prolific writer because it gets rid of complex HTML formatting and rules. I could go on for hours.
The big picture is that software, more than hardware, lets me do things better, or in a new way entirely. But that software wouldn’t have been possible without new hardware, so it all comes full circle. And like I said, I love the way getting to write about these technologies has opened the door to knowing more people in real life.
MA: The evolution of software has certainly facilitated an interconnected and far-reaching environment for completing work and whatnot, but I think it has also — as you say — increased the opportunity for getting to know people. Having said that, I think it’s far too easy for us to get caught up in the former of the two — productivity and work taking precedence over the real world impact of such advances.
For you, despite being always connected via one device or another, do you feel somewhat liberated and free from your digital world? Do you feel that the technology and software can be removed from your view enough that it can complement and enhance your experiences? Or, do you feel that technology is set to live in the foreground and define the entirety of our experiences rather than simply adding to them? Google seems to be moving in precisely that direction with its Project Glass initiative.
FV: I think that technology changed us, and there’s no going back. I think this is especially true for people of “my generation” (I was born in 1988), and it’s a trend that will only increase going forward.
Let me give you an example — well, actually two. The other day I went with my girlfriend at the beach. Just the two of us, just to sit down in the same place we’ll share with lots more people during the summer, only without nobody else — just to relax and think about stuff. Well, as we were walking down by the shoreline, we both spontaneously fired up Instagram and took a picture. We didn’t stare at our phones for minutes, yet we reached out to them as a natural extension of our minds in that specific moment — because we knew a simple, natural way of creating memories was possible through technology.
Two weeks ago I was also at the bar with my friends. Now, my friends aren’t exactly the kind of users you’d call “nerds” or even slightly “tech savvy”, yet they own iPhones and they are interested in trying out apps. They are the new digital consumers. So we were there on a Friday night, drinking our usual beers, and I noticed at least three of them were naturally switching between apps (WhatsApp, iMessage, Facebook, Instagram) as we were talking. They were not excluded from the conversation: they were simply interacting with their devices in the background. They didn’t say “Hey, check out that girl over there” — and I swear this is 100% true — they were browsing Facebook profiles instead (that’s not to say they don’t look at girls — they will never lose that habit for better or worse).
Initially I thought my friends were “weird” for doing that. But as I reflected on it, I figured that all people of my same age are like that now, boys and girls, no difference.
Our brains are wired differently. Technology and mobile devices are changing our social interactions, but I want to stress how my friends aren’t these absurdly awkward people that stand silent in a corner, their eyes shining in the light of their phones’ displays. Not at all. They are normal 24 year-olds that are simply using technology like everyone else does these days: as an extension of our non-digital behaviors and experiences.
So back to your question. Personally, I think we should embrace the fact that technology and “real life” are so deeply intertwined now. It’s too late to start pulling the single strings of this complex fabric now. I believe we can be free from the burden of technology only if we realize we don’t “have to” be free from it: we should let technology and real life be independent and help each other at the same time. That’s what I call progress.
MA: Honestly, the sentiments you have just expressed are remarkably representative of the reasoning for this new series. The articulation that we should “embrace” the interlacing of technology and life is precisely the idea that brought me to reach out to you for this discussion.
More than complexity, I believe technology is now characterized by an increasing sense of accessibility. Rather than focusing upon the hurdles required for full engagement with a device or ecosystem, more and more people are beginning to think of what a device can do for them. Not what it requires of them.
I think the purchase of Instagram is a far-reaching endorsement of this environment. Mobile applications — once considered frivolous and simplistic — have become legitimate bastions of business.
In this environment, what do you expect is next for us? As we increasingly “embrace” this enabling technology, do you think the nature of technology in our lives is set to shift even further — even, perhaps, too much? And, finally, if Instagram is representative of a “first wave,” what comes next?
FV: Having more time to do the things we really care about comes next. Technology can make us “smarter”, but ultimately we seek better tools to be more productive, save time, and make a profit. I can argue that our desire of money is typically driven by a constant pursuit of happiness, which often equals with having more time to focus on the things we want to do, not the ones we have to do. Technology will change this.
Mobile apps may be simplistic, but they really aren’t. You have to look at the grand scheme of things to understand the connections that lead to consequences that have a profound impact on people. See, Instagram may be dismissed as just another photo app that was purchased by a large corporation for an absurd amount of money. People who only see this fail to understand the whole point of this new economy: this is not going to change. Software is the new economy, and devices are the means we use to transmit the currency. Think about the factors involved in the Instagram purchase alone: a small company with employees who receive a salary that sustains families that have other jobs in other ares. Big company comes in, handles a billion dollars to small company, which makes a few people rich in the process including those employees and their families that will likely be happy and choose another role in today’s economy. Oh and by the way, small company was successful because it built an app for a device made by another company that employes thousands….
Do you see where I’m getting at? It’s a complex scenario. I was just having a conversation with a friend the other day — he’s studying typography in college — and we discussed how sometimes people don’t think about the processes and the people that are behind everyday objects. Like, do you have any idea how many people it took to design your fridge? To build the components and assemble it? To sketch it? And who approved that design anyway? There are too many connections, they’re important to keep in mind, and they must not be taken for granted. The new software economy has possibly more of these connections.
So as I was saying, mobile apps aren’t really just mobile apps. They are setting new standards for behaviors and interactions that will be perfectly normal in the future. Because, ultimately, people seek happiness by wishing for more time to do the things they love. The app makers of today fill a double role, as they are pursuing happiness for themselves, and building the future in our present at the same time.
There are several aspects of our daily lives that could be improved. Stuff that won’t even remotely make sense to our grandchildren. The apps and cloud services of today are the seeds of much bigger things to come.
In the future, for example, people won’t “find out” they have cancer. In the same way you can monitor a server’s downtime and crashes, people will be able to monitor their bodies’ condition through nanotechnologies connected with mobile apps and a personal cloud. Local institutions will have instant access to our “status” and they will be able to provide assistance and guidance as needed without bureaxucracy. We will be able to tell diseases by initial alerts, not symptoms. Fifty years from now, the whole concept of “finding out” you’re sick won’t make any sense. Consumer software will turn the entire healthcare industry upside down.
The way we eat will change. Seriously, we’re in 2012 and people still don’t follow healthy diets. While food itself won’t dramatically change in the next decades — people from the future reading this: I hope you are enjoying your pancakes right now — the way we track our eating habits and adjust them to our needs will be completely new. And it will play well with the stuff about monitoring our bodies mentioned above: imagine being able to tell a snack’s calories only by taking a photo of it, or scanning a chip embedded in its packaging, then considering if it can be eaten based on data from our bodies. While there will still be people not caring about these issues, I believe quality of life will generally be objectively better because of the improvements applied to the way we eat. I wonder if Evernote Food will still be around.
There are hundreds of areas waiting for disruption, and mobile devices will be there to assist in the revolution as they are a natural extension of our ideas and actions. There won’t be car crashes at intersections because cars will be aware of another vehicle’s presence; we won’t show “fake IDs” to buy alcohol, as embedded chips with our data and credit card information will take care of allowing us to buy goods and pay for them. Televisions won’t be huge appliances we have to “put” in a room: rather, at any time, we’ll be able to pull stream of images from the cloud and have them projected and voice-controlled anywhere in our homes. The election system will radically change, allowing people to truly vote democratically from the comfort of their couch with a smartphone, and have the results update in a real-time on a public page everyone will be given permission to access with their “personal ID account”.
The rules of privacy will be rewritten. Because we are increasingly becoming citizens of a more connected world that actually feels like a very large city, everyone will know more about each other. We will come to accept the fact that a little bit of something about ourselves will always we public. Yet sharing of more personal data and content will be closely regulated by new technologies for secure and encrypted communications. With the first example I gave, think about the possibility of a service capable of understanding only your girlfriend is really reading that private message. Technology will know more about us.
But we’ll know more about technology, too. First off, the new generations will be hooked up differently than we are, and they’ll instantly be familiar with new concepts of privacy and sharing. This is already happening. Second, by accepting technology as part of our daily lives, we’ll be more relaxed about devices “getting in the way”, say, at private gatherings or family dinners. They will simply be “smart objects”, always available, always doing things for us in the background.
And like I said above, all these innovations will have one common denominator: our happiness. Improving the quality of our lifestyles, institutions, commutes, and social interactions will only be consequences of our basic desire for more time to dedicate to ourselves and the ones we love.
Technology will allow us to have more time to spend with our kids, and take super high-def videos of them, instantly going up to the cloud and into their grandparents’ living room through holograms. We’ll have more time to be creative, follow our hobbies and passions, and work more in higher quality, better connected work environments. We’ll live longer. A common misconception is that all these automation-based inventions will replace human workforce: au contraire, because technology can’t invent itself, we’ll simply have jobs shifting to other areas. After all, we don’t have the same job positions from 1000 years ago, but as you can see Planet Earth is still here. Indeed, the new economy.
Man, when you think about it, technology is pretty exciting, isn’t it?
MA: Exciting, indeed.
When you take a step back from the granularities of our news cycle, there is a relatively untapped wilderness of potential and discussion. Few choose to examine this — to speculate over our collective technological trajectory. But, from my perspective, it is from this place that true innovation may strike us.
I think you, Federico, have just unabashedly delved into this world — a world of limitless potential and hope. You’ve given yourself permission to dream. That is a wonderful thing to behold.
This has been an eye-opening discussion. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to begin. Is there anything you’d like to add?
FV: I want to thank you, Matt, for letting me share some of my thoughts about the impact of technology on our lives.
I wish journalists and writers were less cynical, and understood that business and motivation are tangent aspects of this incredibly exciting technology age. While the business is important, sometimes it’s secondary. A consequence of brilliant ideas, which needs to be dealt with.
Some entrepreneurs really want to make a dent in the universe. We should be optimistic again.